Le Marais: A Paris local’s self-guided walking tour with map

Slow Paris

Le Marais is one of the oldest, and most well-preserved neighbourhoods of Paris. In fact, this is the closest anyone could come to experiencing medieval Paris. The co-existence of history, culture, trendy shops and eateries, along with some of the most important buildings for French polity, means that walking around in Le Marais, is a feast for the senses. And a self-guided walking tour is a unique way to experience this district.

After having spent a lot of my time in Paris walking around and exploring this neighbourhood, I figured it was a good time to share my favourite haunts in Le Marais. I have used this walking route numerous times, especially when I set out for one of my solo photo walks. You can spot more Marais’ moments on my photography account @french_detours.

While Le Marais is one of the most fashionable and trendiest districts of Paris, this self-guided walking tour is all about covering various diverse aspects of this quartier Parisienne. The stops in this tours will acquaint you with some of the historical, esoteric, colourful and at times, tragic stories waiting to be discovered in this neighbourhood.

If you are in the mood for chilling in a quiet garden, try this hidden gem in Bastille, or why not visit one of these Paris museum cafés.

Le Marais Paris Café exterior
Le Marais is full of pretty corners like this. Photo by Pronoti

The story behind how Le Marais gets its name

The French word marais literally translates to ‘swamp’ in English, and the name came about because of the marshy quality of this land on the banks of the Seine. During the Middle Ages, it became an important place for many religious orders who tended the land and developed it. Interestingly, Paris wasn’t always known for its la vie en rose! It once used to be an insignificant provincial cathedral city. It was under the rule of the Capetian dynasty between 987 and 1328 that it became a powerful centre for the country.

Much of what we know as Parisian architecture and style, was the result of the 17 long years of urban renewal project, led by Georges-Eugène Haussmann. He was chosen in 1850 by Emperor Napoléon III to “aérer, unifier, et embellir” (aerate, unify and beautify) Paris and modernise it. This meant that a lot of what we have in terms of Parisienne style dates back to the 1800s. All except for Le Marais! This place managed to evade the massive renovations. Thus, it still has some beautifully preserved buildings and roads from medieval Paris.

Today, Le Marais is one of the most chic areas of Paris, with property prices soaring. It also remains one of the areas with the densest population of Jews, who have lived here since the middle ages and enriched this place with their culture and gastronomy. Another community which has famously made Le Marais their home, is the LGBTQ community.

Le Marais self-guided walking tour with map

Here’s a map of of all the places in Le Marais that this self-guided walking tour will cover. The walk can be finished within two hours but of course, you might be tempted to stop and linger at some of these places.

Le Marais self guided walking tour map
Click for an interactive Le Marais self-guided walking tour map

Where do we start? Of course, at Hôtel de Ville!

Displaying statues of Voltaire, Colbert, Molière, Paris’ Hôtel de Ville or city hall, was built in the 16th century. The word hôtel in French derives from the Latin hospitālis which means ‘pertaining to guests’ and hospes, meaning a stranger or guest. In French, hôtel is used for any grand townhouse, and the addition of particulaire implies it is privately owned. Hôtel De Ville means city/town hall.

This particular city hall was built between 1535-1551. The enormous square upfront was known as Place de Grève, a place infamous for its bloody and unusually cruel public executions. During the 13th century, heretics (anyone not subscribing to Catholicism, essentially) were executed here. Suspected witches were burned at the stake as late as the 17th century; while others were hanged on the gallows. The final execution to take place on the Place de Grève was in 1830; and the square was subsequently referred to under its current name, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville.

the facade and fountains outside Hotel de Ville
Hotel de Ville, Paris. Photo by Pronoti

Memorial de la Shoah- Museum and documentation centre.

Shoah is the French word for the Holocaust. Though it is easy to be swept away in the colourful and festive atmosphere of Le Marais, lets never forget that some of the worst historical injustices have happened here. After France’s armistice with Germany, French police in collaboration with local authorities began rounding up Jews and other people targeted by the Nazis for deportation to the concentration camps. About 200,000 men, women and children were deported between 1940-1944, including Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and political opponents.

The Shoah Memorial is a museum which is dedicated to preserving and documenting this painful period of history. This Holocaust museum is dedicated to Jewish history during the Second World War.

Medieval houses on Rue Francois Miron

Just a couple of minutes away, on Rue Francois Miron, you will find 2 houses that stick out from everything else on the street. They date back to the medieval ages, and their architecture is a sight to behold. Take a look yourself!

Le Marais medieval house Paris
The medieval houses on Rue François Miron. Photo by Pronoti

Hôtel de Sens

Next up is the Hôtel de Sens. It is one of Paris’ only remaining medieval-era mansions, or hotels particuliers. The other one is across the Seine, called Cluny Museum. Hôtel was erected between 1475 and 1519 by the Archbishop of Sens, Tristan Salazar, who aimed to build a residence that would symbolise the political power and wealth of the Parisian archbishops.

Through the years, this mansion has hosted many royal figures. The most famous, or infamous occupant was Marguerite de Valois, also known as Queen Margot, who lived here after her marriage to King Henri IV was annulled.

Walk through old wall of Paris and visit the Village Saint Paul

Just around the corner from Hôtel de Sens, you will find yourself walking along a narrow street, Rue des Jardins Saint-Paul. Here, you can spot a sports yard of a school. Beyond the basketball courts and kids playing, do take note of the high walls on your left. These are actually remnants of Philip August wall that dates back to 1911. This wall used to once encircle what used to be the border of Paris city.

Further on this street, you will find Village Saint Paul, a quaint historic building complex in Le Marais. Le Village Saint Paul dates back to the 13th century, and is made up of a cluster of buildings around a number of inter-linked courtyards of varying sizes. It is full of museums, artists’ studios, antique shops and a lot of knick-knacks that would transport you straight to some bygone time. Don’t forget to check out some of the beautiful courtyards here!

Visit the church frequented by Victor Hugo: Church Saint Paul

After this, take Rue Saint Paul to reach the open red doors of the Church Saint Paul. It was built between 1627-1641. The imposing, baroque-style building is beautiful from the outside, but it is even more impressive on the inside. The chandeliers all lit up inside the church, are a sight to behold!

Victor Hugo immortalised this church in Les Misérables. In fact, you can still spot the clam-shell holy water vessels donated by Hugo to the church.

The garden of Hôtel-de-Sens, Paris.
The garden of Hôtel-de-Sens, Paris. Photo by Pronoti

Place des Vosges

Cross the street from Church Saint Paul and walk a couple minutes away to be transported to the Place des Vosges. This is one of the most beautiful squares in Paris in my opinion.

Built in the early 17th century, Place des Vosges is Paris’ oldest planned square. Enclosed by stunning red brick buildings with vaulted arcades, it was once home to literary giants like Victor Hugo. Today, it’s a haven for locals and tourists alike, offering charming cafes, art galleries, and lush green spaces perfect for a leisurely stroll or a relaxed picnic.

Maison du Victor Hugo

As mentioned above, Victor Hugo used to live in a house in one of the corners of Places des Vosges. In fact, this is where he produced a majority of his written work and lived a deliciously scandalous life, of course. The writer’s former home today houses a museum and it is also free to visit.

Museum Carnavalet

Getting out of Places des Vosges, walk the busy Rue des Franc Bourgeois, until you reach Musée Carnavalet. This is the museum dedicated to the city of Paris. If you are interested in learning how Paris came to be, this is the place for you. The museum’s collection holds over over 618,000 items dating from prehistory to the present.

Museum Carnavalet is also the oldest museum in Paris. The building itself, housed in the magnificent Hôtel des Ligneris (also known as ‘Carnavalet’) is striking. It is one of the rare examples of Renaissance architecture in Paris. Another part of the museum is housed in Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, which was annexed to the museum in 1989.

Musée Carnavalet’s permanent collection is free to visit for all. Do not miss the wonderful courtyard of the museum.

Parisian siting in the sun at Places des Vosges Paris
Places des Vosges, Paris. Photo by Pronoti

Rue Pavée and Rue de Rosiers

Walk through Rue Pavée and then take Rue de Rosiers for the next destination on the self-guided walking tour of Le Marais. Note that these two streets themselves hold a lot of historical importance. Le Marais is one of the first districts in Paris to have paved roads. This is where the name ‘Rue Pavée’ or paved street comes from. This road has existed under various names since the 1200s!

Rue de Rosiers too is home to many buildings which date back to the Middle Ages. The name of the street translates to ‘street of the rosebushes’, and there has been written mention of the street found as long back as the 13th century. The Jewish population migrated here around the end of 12the century. This street is an amalgam of buildings, libraries and eateries which have been enriched by their connection to Jewish culture. Here, you can find some of the oldest Jewish architecture in Paris, while enjoying some of the best falafels in Paris!

At the end of Rue des Rosiary, is a school from which 165 students who were forcibly deported to Auschwitz via the transit camp at Drancy (outside Paris) during the Holocaust. Despite the headmaster’s efforts to prevent their deportation, it was carried out and none of them survived to return home. A plaque commemorates this injustice. There is a memorial for these deported martyrs, called Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation across the Seine, in Île de la Cité.

National Archives Museum – Hôtel de Soubise

This building holds some of the most important documents and memorablias in the history of France. Some noteworthy mentions include Marie-Antoinette ‘s last letter, the constitution of the Fifth Republic, diary of Louis XVI, and Napoleon’s will. The museum is open for visitors to enter.

The National Archives of France are housed in Hôtel de Soubise since 1808. Beyond its imposing red gates and official looking exterior, its also the gateway to a series of interconnected gorgeous gardens. You can spend a whole afternoon here just walking around or lazing in the sun.

Just a few steps from here are the Picasso-Paris Museum and the Cognacq-Jay Museum.

Parisian walking on the streets of Le Marais, Paris
Streets of Le Marais, Paris. Photo by Pronoti

Centre Pompidou

Walking through Rue Rambuteau, take Rue Saint-Martin for the next stop in this Le Marais self-guided walking tour. The striking architecture of Centre Pompidou will be hard to miss. With its glass and metal exterior and ‘caterpillar,’ like escalators, the bright blue and red building has been quiet divisive. People either love it or hate it. But it’s importance in the cultural landscape of Paris is deeply entrenched.

The museum’s permanent collections displays modern and contemporary art and installations that includes a variety of mediums. It also hosts temporary exhibitions by contemporary artists. The Centre Pompidou also offers one of the most sweeping view of the city of Paris. Even if contemporary art might not be your thing, the view from the building itself is worth visiting it for.

Tour Saint Jacques

For the last point in this self-guided walking tour of Le Marais, there’s not better place than Tour Saint Jacques. The tower is what remains of the 15the century church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. The church itself was destroyed during the French Revolution but luckily the tower was spared. What we see today is the result of decades worth of restitution work on the tower.

Tour Saint Jacques is a superb example of Flamboyant Gothic architecture. This style is characterised by extravagant embellishment of technical and decorative elements. There is also a park around the tower and what’s more, you can even go atop it for an unmatched view of Paris.

Le Centre Pompidou Paris
Le Centre Pompidou, Paris. Photo by Pronoti

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